Christos Rafalides, a relative newcomer on the New York jazz scene with his own Manhattan Vibes group, fits right into the groove being established by Khaeon World Music. Some of the musicians have become familiar sounds on the label, as well as on its sister label, ESC Records. In particular, John Benitez makes a substantial contribution to the first Manhattan Vibes CD soon after he released his first album on the label as well, Descarga In New York.
Having come to the U.S. from his native country of Greece and studying with vibes legend Gary Burton at Berklee before moving to New York, Rafalides has developed his own attitude about music--an attitude that involves multi-cultural references as well as the significance of danceable rhythms in all of his music.
Sometimes holding back to emphasize the pre-eminence of rhythm over flurries of notes, Rafalides sets up his own vibe for each tune and remains consistent with its feel. The 6/8 swirl of "Flamingo Strut" evolves into an irresistible Afro-Latin call-and-response expression from the heart. Appropriately, Rafalides chooses the woody sounds of the marimba to create a natural sonic involvement with the tune. Singer Wormworth leads the proceedings with a trance-like repetition of the words and phrasing, to which the other members of the group sing out their replies.
Other guest artists pop up here and there, notably Brecker who mutes his trumpet to lead the melody of "Pocket" over its funk groove established particularly by the back beat of drummer Haas. Valentino ends the choruses with the bending of notes on his guitar to make even more evident the rock-beat roots of the tune.
Manhattan Vibes adapts a few standards to its infectious and stretched-out interpretations, such as the high-energy version of "Caravan," Haas' crisp hi-hat work pushing the group through surges and halts before the relaxed improvisational groove kicks in, Benitez' bass snapping with obvious strength and support. On the other hand, "Estate" begins with a solo cadenza, the vibe's sustain pedal elongating the tones while the percussion crackles subtly in the background, and then it falls into an easy exploration distinguished by the group's signature accents and sudden rests.
Manhattan Vibes knows the sound it wants to project, and it has developed its own repertoire and approach to achieve its results. No doubt even more fun in a live club atmosphere, the group, while acknowledging the numerous cultural influences contributing to its musicians' development, projects a sense of fun and discovery.